Senators Aim To Curtail Presidential Power Over War, Arms Sales, Emergency Declarations
Plus: The FBI had at least a dozen informants helping put together the plot to kidnap Michigan's governor, price controls fail again, and more.
A bipartisan trio of U.S. senators has introduced legislation that would curtail the executive branch's powers over war authorizations, emergency declarations, and arms deals. The effort is aimed at restoring Congress to its proper place as a coequal branch of government and seeks "to reverse the decades-long erosion of the House and Senate's authority to shape American foreign policy," Politico reports.
The National Security Powers Act is the result of a somewhat unlikely political alliance between Sens. Mike Lee (R–Utah), Chris Murphy (D–Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). Rep. James McGovern (D–Mass.) will introduce a companion bill in the House. The three senators had been the driving forces behind a 2019 resolution that sought to end U.S. involvement in the ongoing civil war in Yemen—it passed Congress but was vetoed by then-President Donald Trump, who had previously inked a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia that helped it prosecute the devastating war in Yemen.
The new proposal would give Congress a stronger hand in future showdowns over how American troops are deployed or where American military gear is sold. It would require an affirmative vote in Congress to approve sales of American fighter jets, tanks, and other weapons of war totaling over $14 million—a key change from the current system that requires a veto-proof majority in Congress to block such deals.
It would also require that Congress vote within 20 days, rather than 60, to approve any military action taken under the War Powers Resolution (WPR), and the bill would automatically cut off funding for engagements that do not win congressional approval. Again, this reverses the current arrangement in which Congress must cobble together a veto-proof majority to block presidential approval of military actions under the WPR.
Finally, the bill requires that Congress approve emergency declarations—and specific powers tied to them—within 30 days. The sponsors say that measure will prevent the president "from exploiting a crisis to increase executive authority." Trump had declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019 in order to divert billions of dollars in military spending to his proposed border wall project—and, again, Congress was unable to pull together the veto-proof majority necessary to stop it.
"Congress has acquiesced to the growing, often unchecked power of the executive to determine the outline of America's footprint in the world," Murphy said in a statement. "Before it's too late, Congress needs to reclaim its rightful role as a co-equal branch on matters of war and national security."
These are worthwhile proposals that would go a long way toward ensuring that Congress has a voice in important debates over U.S. foreign policy and national security. They would temper future presidents' ability to abuse their broad executive authority.
But the bill faces an uphill battle given that Congress isn't too interested in asserting itself. "It is likely to face stiff head winds from lawmakers who defend presidential authority to make decisions affecting national security without constantly seeking permission from Congress, and from the [Biden] administration itself," The Washington Post reports.
A deeply reported Buzzfeed News account of the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) last September reveals that the FBI had not one, not two…but at least 12 confidential informants working the case:
An examination of the case by BuzzFeed News also reveals that some of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.
A longtime government informant from Wisconsin, for example, helped organize a series of meetings around the country where many of the alleged plotters first met one another and the earliest notions of a plan took root, some of those people say. The Wisconsin informant even paid for some hotel rooms and food as an incentive to get people to come.
Another informant, an Iraq War veteran who was the second-in-command of the paramilitary militia that is accused of organizing the kidnapping plot, was directed by his FBI handlers to draw specific people into the conspiracy, according to a motion filed by one of the defendant's attorneys. All but one of the 14 people arrested in connection to the Whitmer kidnapping plot have pleaded not guilty.
The FBI has a long history of using informants to encourage and abet would-be domestic terrorists, only to sweep in and save the day at the last minute. The Whitmer kidnapping plot may belong on that list.
North Carolina's state-run liquor store system is experiencing major shortages as price controls fail once again. Liquor stores are run at the county level, but state laws impose "a uniform pricing structure to protect against price gouging and untimely price hikes," The Charlotte Observer reports. State officials in charge of the monopolistic system are blaming supply chain issues and surging demand in the months after COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants were lifted.
"We all are experiencing the supply and demand shortage," Zander Guy Jr., chairman of the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, tells the paper.
Well, maybe not all of us. Across the border in South Carolina, where liquor stores are privately owned and free to change prices as needed to keep their shelves stocked, liquor store employees tell the Observer that they're seeing an increase in traffic from North Carolina residents who can't get their favorite booze at home.
• Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) is still pushing for a vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending plan this week. Republicans are asking him to wait until Monday so they can review the final version of the bill, which is not yet public.
Republicans are readying a letter to Schumer saying they will be prepared to vote to advance the bipartisan infrastructure package on Monday, per sources. At least eight GOP senators are committed to doing so, per a source directly familiar
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) July 20, 2021
• Thomas Barrack, chairman of former President Donald Trump's inauguration committee, was arrested Monday and charged with serving as an unregistered foreign agent of the United Arab Emirates, among other crimes.
• A Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Mark Ibrahim, is the first federal law enforcement official to be charged in connection with the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. He appears to have worn his badge during the incident.
#CapitolRiot: DEA agent Mark Ibrahim has been charged w/ four counts in connection to January 6, including making a false statement and entering a restricted grounds with a firearm. First surfaced by @SeamusHughes. @wusa9 @EricFlackTV pic.twitter.com/tMg2wkbSoI
— Jordan Fischer (@JordanOnRecord) July 20, 2021
• Why does Jeff Bezos' rocket look like that?
• The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship on Tuesday, as Greek immigrant Giannis Antetokounmpo became just the second player in NBA history to score 50 points in a title-clinching game. Unfortunately, that doesn't make their arena, built with more than $500 million in public subsidies, any less of a boondoggle.